Matisyahu is a walking, talking intrigue. A devout Hasidic Jew, he has become well known for blending reggae with rock and hip-hop and for filling his music with lyrics based on his Jewish teachings. He is a musician who believes firmly in authenticity and meaning in music, regardless of genre. His third full-length album, Light, has been in the works for two years and features collaborations with a variety of producers such as drum and bass legends Sly & Robbie and Fish and Norwood from the Californian rockers Fishbone.
It’s possible to detect reggae influences all over this record, but the wide variety of sounds in his palette actually detracts. Warm synths, tumbling pianos, Arabic guitars and even a children’s choir all feature. But it’s the really the simpler songs that strike more of a chord. For all its sappiness and corniness, One Day is a highly uplifting number and the final song, Silence, is a touching acoustic lullaby.
All the songs on Light tend to fall into two distinct categories. On the one hand there are pop songs with potential mass appeal; One Day was even used in the promotional campaign for the 2010 Winter Olympics. For You contains dramatic and sweeping strings and On Nature is an inherently catchy number with its aforementioned children’s choir. On the other hand there are tunes that are a touch darker in tone and instrumentation. Smash Lies is a loud and proud opener that seems almost sinister in its production, whilst Escape puts Matisyahu’s rhymes against a musical backdrop designed to be unsettling and foreboding.
The other elements of Light have a similar sort of hit and miss nature. For the most part, Matisyahu’s rapping is very solid and is, whilst perhaps unspectacular, reliable. He is certainly a man who has something to say from a different perspective, and wants to embrace as many genres as possible. At the same time, this open-natured approach to the way he writes his music confuses. It doesn’t know whether it is at its heart a commercial record or something with a bit more venom and bite. Which leaves it falling between stools.
For someone who has a lot to say and is such a unique figure in music, it’s a disappointment that Light isn’t as captivating as it should be. Repeated listens become a chore to get through all at once. What’s more frustrating is that, whilst his career would benefit from choosing a certain path to go down, he has songs of differing types that work well, whether appealing to the masses or offering up more challenging soundscapes. Matisyahu has a lot to say, but ultimately little to show for it.